Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Revealed

Damn, I knew capitalism left a lot of corpses in its wake but did you hear about the poor Wal Mart employee who was trampled to death by the commodity crazed six a.m. mob that charged through the doors on Friday? I'm not making this up. In the frenzy to fill their carts with cheap Chinese crap they gave him/her the old Mecca flattening treatment. Horrifying and yet...

I propose a public trial, lets put the consumers and the corporations and the culture and capitalism on the stand and find out who, if anyone, is guilty? I saw a tutorial on TV about how parents should break it to their spoiled little brats that there wasn't going to be as much crap under the tree this year, what with the global economic meltdown and all.

"But Mom, can't you just work a little more overtime?"

"I would Billy, but they just cut back my hours and I had to stampede an old man to death just to get this plastic AK47 on sale."

"Geez Mom, that really sucks!"

"We'll get you the grenade launcher for your birthday, by then everything should be back to normal."



I'm still trying to get a handel on the bailout. Today I read the total is up to 7.4 TRILLION (including loans, guarantees,etc) but another pundit threw out eight and a half. Not that I'm going to quibble over a measly trillion but remember when "Iraqi oil" was going to pay for the whole invasion/occupation? By the way, thats $24,ooo for every man, woman and child in the greatest country in the world (GCITW) . Not sure if fetus' qualify. Anyway, it doesn't SEEM like the shock doctrine, I mean ,they aren't imposing neoliberal structural adjustments on anybody, they are simply emptying the coffers and throwing it down what appears to be a black hole? Help me out here CB, anybody? Will somebody be paying this back? Is somebody getting rich?

Per our last discussion on the nature of capitalism,(and all that other cool stuff, libertarianism, Austria etc) I came across an interesting piece by Michel Aglietta (University of ParisX) , following Ferdinand Braudel, he makes a point which might help explain why we have at times been speaking at cross purposes. He writes:

"1. Since its emergence in W Europe, capitalism has always been both global and embedded in particular, endlessly differentiated social structures.

2. A market economy and capitalism are linked but are not identical. The market paradigm is one of exchange among equals; it can be formalized as competitive equilibrium. Capitalism is a force of accumulation. It is not self-regulating and does not converge to any ideal model. Inequality is its essence."



Struggling with model vs reality or theory vs history we have been treating the two, capitalism and market economies as identical. In capitalism, unlike markets, money is a public good and labor is not reducible to a commodity. When he says "embedded in social structures" I'm thinking state, government, civil society so that the difference between capitalism and mercantilism becomes one of degrees, it is quantitative rather than qualitative. Market theory is all that mathematical formulation we see on blackboards with its signs and symbols. Actual capitalism is the Mad Max rollercoaster of recent history.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Back at You

I will spare you all the leftist rant about obnoxious Puritans and exploited "indigenous peoples". Luckily we were invited to a friends, sparing me what no doubt would have been a disaster, I'm talking about these wild turkeys that have gotten quite prolific around my place here in W Montana and whose harvest I have been contemplating. All those feathers to be picked and then they would probably be tough and chewy. Still, if my fishing clients, many of whom are (were?) big time financial wizards and Masters of the Universe, fail to show up next season I may be damn happy to have big, chewy birds scratching around my lawn. For now I'll be grateful for all my blessings, the good health me and my family enjoy , the love we all share, my good friends and comrades and the good discussion I have found here on the Internets!

When Marx said "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways, the point, however, is to change it", he makes it sound like an either -or proposition. I do like what the Zapatistas say about marching ahead and not over-thinking things ("optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect?" I forget who said that) but there is a necessary stage of interpretation that we shouldn't let laziness allow us to skip over. That doesn't mean no action, some things are as clear as a Bitterroot trout stream. But the world is changing and that means re-thinking . The good news is we don't have to waste much time debating defenders of the status quo, though we should respectfully step over the corpses. This might be the year when the Ad Busters "Buy Nothing" campaign ( no shopping on Black Friday) is fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams. Me, I'm all about extreme last minute shopping frenzy, a tradition like yams and creamed onions!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Austrian School

CB has opened up an interesting avenue for discussion by bringing up what is known as the Austrian School. Starting as a body of economic theory, some of it's adherants went on to apply these principles in the development of social and political theory and the current events of today (global economic crisis) and our discussion here are influenced still by that whole body of thought. A direct lineage reaches back to von Mises and Hayeck, on through Reagan/Thatcherism and proceeds today with a strand of market libertarianism which CB represents. In my opinion. Much can be learned by responses to this question:

Would an authoritarian regime which repressed popular suffrage but respected the rule of law be a better guardian of liberty than a democratic regime liable to the temptations of economic intervention or social redistribution?

Saying yes to this (admittedly extreme) choice is based on the principle that cosmos , the unintended yet coherent web of relations within which individual agents pursued their different ends, not be intruded upon by taxis, a willed enterprise seeking to realize substantive collective goals. The rule of law depended on government separation of the two but giving priority to the first in the maintenence of a market economy in a free state. Cosmos implies a spontaneous order (think "invisible hand") which is really just chance. Chance as an equal arbiter with winners and losers. The proof for this is basically utitlitarian, in other words :"what works is Good", and we see this with CB's use of the historical record to demonstrate the correctness of his claims. This is the argument of Locke over Hobbes, and then of Austrian economist Carl Menger, of the supriority of spontaneous growth or natural evolution over intentional design, but it runs into real trouble trying to explain the evolution of welfare states historically!

So in the libertarian construct, we find government as civil asociation, based on pride of free individuality, categorically excluding all collective purpose. This leads to Thatchers famous ridicule, following Oakschott, that "there is no such thing as society." What compact compells people to join any civil association is unanswered. Pure enterprisedoes little to explain community.

As to this point we keep coming back to, that of property as the foundation of liberty, I think it is interesting to go back to the origins of the concept, to what Locke referred to as "radical title" and Marx identified as "primitive accumulation". All property, prior to it's division, first needed to be conquered and occupied. (I'm thinking of the Roman boot and the Norman stirrup) The other way of gaining title was to make it "productive" and thereby create value, Americas westward expansion being a fairly recent example. For Hobbes this "is the only act of the Sovereign; and consisteth in the Laws, which none can make which have not the Sovereign Power. And this they knew well of old, who called that Nomos (that is to say , Distribution) ,which we call Law; and defined Justice , by distributing to every man his own. In this Distribution, the First Law, is for the Distribution of the Land itself"

My radical interpretation is that such re-distribution must occur continuously, with each new child born, in order for liberty to prevail. Inheritance then becomes the obstacle to the Justice, defined by Law, which Hobbes prescribed. I am not against the concept of property per se, but against it's unequal distribution. And rather than the redundency of printing new titles for each new citizen lets just recognize him/her as an equal shareholder. Should you lose your allotment gambling or being lazy, so be it. I just don't think we need a debtors prisons to teach "moral hazard" or mansions to spur innovation.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Appreciation

Thanks CB, Ducky, Ren and others for respectful dialogue on last thread. The thoughtful, classical conservative is a rare breed, in my experience. Now more than ever I wish I had more knowledge of monetary policy,role of central banks, intricacies of financialization and the whole delicate structure which is modern capitalism. (variously referred to as state capitalism, mercantilism, mixed economy, monopoly capitalism, "late" capitalism, etc..) The debate about the continuing viability of this system obviously continues, as it should, and just as we Americans learned about Iraq by invading it, we wait till the DOW hits the 7000s to learn about economic crisis. Those who read the National Review like CB learn that FDR prolonged the depression by 30 years. (check his blog) Those who read ZNet learn about the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Mussolini was a great believer in mixed economies. My hope is that this blog is a place to discuss and debate what we have learned.

One point that always comes up is the role of "human nature" and what economic system best utilizes these "natural" inclinations. Some say only competition produces innovation, others say "each against all" retards the species' social evolution. I ran across this early meditation on the nature vs nurture theme:
"And I affirm that as the instinct of the dog is to hunt, of the bird to fly, of the horse to gallup, so the natural bent of man is to philosophy and right conduct. As every creature most readily learns that for which it is created, therefore will man, with but sight effort, be brought to follow that to which nature has given him so strong an instinct- excellence- but on one condition: that nature be reinforced by the wise energy of the educator."
Erasmus

Filled up this morning for $1.78 a gallon. Best part is not having to listen to Silly Sarah jabbering about "Drill Baby Drill". Fellow hateful Alaskan Sen. Stevens will no longer gag us with his rat breath. Joe the Plumber is recieving food stamps and the auto execs flew to Washington in their private jets. Now does a tax hike for the rich sound ok? He can still feel good about being above the new World Bank international poverty line of $1.25 a day. How many are at or below? Tune in tommorro and find out!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Crisis for Capitalism or Opportunity?

The brilliant and articulate Naomi Klien has been hitting the circuit hard of late, piece in Rolling Stone, piece in the Nation, appearance at Miami Bookfair (with Scahill) , appearance this morning on Democracy Now, all advancing the notion that the "Bailout" is consistent with her broader thesis from Shock Doctrine of "disaster capitalism". She is warning us about the looting, even the "privitization" of the treasury by capitalist/state forces associated with the Bush administration(though not exclusively) in this time of "crisis"and the use of this opportunity to push through a broad agenda of tax relief and even further de-regulation of the financial system. She further warns us to expect a bold push towards Doha Round trade liberalization in the context of this "global re-structuring" of the economic system. I suppose I need to read the exact language that came out of this G20 summit but I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick.



I'm not quite sure what to make of her analysis. On the one hand, there is no reason to believe corporatist lackeys like Paulson or Mt. Senator Max Baucus (head of finance and banking) are not trying to butter their bread and that of their patrons at every opportunity, but it is one thing to impose neoliberalism on Chileans through despotic violence with few paying attention and quite another to pull it off when the whole planet is fixated on your every move. Much of what she says stands to reason, backed by history, some though is reaching.

It just seems to me that if executives and shareholders start walking away with taxpayer money, while under a virtual microscope, they will confront a lynchmob of populists from both the left and the right. Perhaps I underestimate their audacity.



Regardless of such antics, I still think the ideological crisis, the undoing of neoliberal, trickle-down orthodoxy, a very real and significant event which has opened up possibilities undreamed of for decades. What happens to the Big Three auto companies is a real showdown between forces that will necessarily demonstrate the limits, lift the veil as it were, on our hollow democracy and its spectacular processes. Workers vs Capital vs Politics all wrapped up in one big show. The lines would once again be clearly drawn, after a long hiatus, and the slogan "Which side are you on?" once again relevent. I suppose we'll just have to stay tuned!

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Lame Duck" Inadequate

From the Wa Po: "..Bush travelled to Wall Street where he gave a robust defense of capitalism and seemed to warn world leaders - and the incoming Obama administration- not to draw the wrong lessons from the global economic crisis by overly regulating and hindering free-trade."

This prior to the economic summit of the big 20 where we know Bush is considered not just a lame duck but a sad clown and loser on a meta- historical scale. His delivery was pure Bush, that painful attempt to be a "serious" person, furrowed brow, smirk, strong emphasis on the pathetically obvious. He joins pundits, shockjocks and southern legislators screaming about Marxism and Free-Markets blah blah. It really is hard to imagine anyone less relevent or trustworthy than the fool who stood behind the same podium blustering about WMDs and the great Katrina response and our basically sound economy. This is not to say I am immune to CB's (or someone else's ) arguments about the corrosive role of government/state (join the discussion on his blog financialmarketmeltdown.blogspot.com/) on economy. I respect Mutualists who take a similar stance from the libertarian/syndicalist left , but hearing it come from the mouths of such groteque hypocrits as Bush Inc. is intolerable. Posers and prancers who should end up behind bars.

In every conversation, every interview, every article on "progressive" forums like Common Dreams, I'm hearing the same refrain like a drumbeat. "We must transform the Obama campaign energy into a progressive movement, ie keep the pressure on, influence policy, achieve the 'change' we believe in." Strategic questions arise. Would it be hurtfully divisive for a left opposition to form? Which compromises can be accepted? How long should Democrats be given to consolidate their power before they can be challenged? Support the bailouts? Challenge the Russians? Escalate in Afgahnistan? Buy an AK 47?

Well I hate to be a bubble burster BUT, there will be no "movement" because class has been dismantled as a unifying force. That was why Joe the Plumber was an important symbol. You can write a letter to your congress(wo)man, you can sign an internet petition, you can stand on the corner with a sign. You will be applauded. Organize workers and call a strike and you will be vilified. Guess which one is actually effective in bringing change?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facts Are Simple

Ran into a friend on our walk with whom we commiserated for a while on local Democrat losses last Tues.. (county and stste legislature here in Montana) She was trying to understand how We (liberal forces) could keep losing when we so obviously had all the FACTS on our side, the empirical evidence, the truth. This is what happens when you take the term "social science" a bit too literally. After fifteen years of presenting "facts" and "evidence" to this majority and forever losing she fevently persisted in her devotion to the idea that just as in a mathematical equation, a proof was undeniable. Reason must prevail, well, tell that to Galileo.

The "fact" is, it wasn't just a County Land Use Plan these folks continue to reject. It is being forced from their comforting myths of how life was and aught to be that they reject, it is change and newcomers with foreign views and belief systems. It started with hippies and war protesters and environmentalists and now includes gays and east coast elites and multiculturalism. It is a fantastical, idealized, if repressive, culture they are defending tooth and claw and the Growth Plan is just a symbolic representation of growing powerlessness and irrelevancy in a world hurtling ahead at breakneck speeds. They have some of CB's property= freedom ideology mixed in with country western sentimentality and a good dose of Wasilla- style Assembly of God churchiness.

Of course "we" don't require their acquiesence, with a winner take all system, the pro-plan people with their "facts"will probably eventually carry the day but it will leave a smoldering, alienated and disenfranchised group of rural folk backed even further into a defensive posture and ready to fight for their precious cultural beliefs. Which, coincidentally, just happens to be what my book is about!

Talk about "Believers", they were playing songs from around the world yesterday on NPR which celebrate Obama. Mostly from Africa, of course, but also Carribean and Latin American, a whole genre which puts our new President on this grand pedestal or even above the clouds, truly as a savior or Messiah (as the right wing talk radio folks derisively call him). How these artists can be so idealistically naive after all the dissapointments and plunder by their own politicians is a question I can't answer....... Yes I can! It ain't about facts!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Better Bailout?

Curiously, both the progressive and conservative media-spheres are awash in criticism of the details of the government bailout plan. As each new program unfolds, debate continues about the "efficiency" or "justice"of the myriad proposals to spend the tax-payers 700 billion (and climbing) dollars, what will work? what is fair? what will send the right message? where is the moral hazard? what is still capitalism, what socialism? Are we nationalizing the banks or is the financial sector privitizing the government? blah blah.

I'm coming at this from a much different perspective than say, Naomi Klien or Van Jones or (obviously) Sean Hannity , in that I don't give a rats ass if the bailout works or doesn't. This is a distraction from the real issue. We should ALL be saying that we clearly see that crisis is integral to the structure of capitalism and we don't care if Maynard Keynes tries to fix it or Roosevelt or Stiglitz or Galbraith. It is time to admit, like any car owner knows, that another tune-up or brake job is just throwing good money after bad, it is time to say goodbye and send the beast to the junkyard. We are tired of crisis, we are sick of "creative destruction" just like we get sick of calling the tow truck to haul some old heap to the mechanics yet again.

Time for a new car. Why bailout Ford, GM, Chrysler, AIG, the lady down the block, Mainstreet, Wall Street, S and L's ,Dot Com's and on and on as though we are helpless bystanders watching some runaway machine, some Frankenstein or Fantasia like Groundhog Day nightmare. Why would we want to patch up yet again a system that causes so much pain and misery, that starves so many people and is so incredibly unjust? This is a rare "teachable moment".

All the material ingredients of production stand visibly presented: Need, resources, labor. Why are they suddenly unable to function ? Why can't labor be mobilized and resources utilized to satisfy need? Because of a uniquely capitalist syndrome. The insane "invisible hand" has temporarily dropped it's whip and cannot self flaggelate itself into action, in other words, the distinctively SOCIAL preconditions for their operation have been disrupted. Capitalism is demonstrated to be not some inexorable force of nature but a human construct designed to place one large group in the sevice of a much, much smaller group. As soon as labor stops selling itself as a commodity the whole ridiculous house of cards crumbles and we can begin to put everybody to work and satisfy everyones needs.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tecumseh's Fist

A good friend handed me an extended pamphlet of sorts which directs us "Towards a politics of transformation in the US, the 2008 election and beyond" by Ricardo Levins Morales. It is interesting and worthy of a broad discussion and I am inspired that yet another older white guy(my friend) is getting more radical as his political knowledge and wisdom matures. While critical of the two party duopoly, the co-opted non profit-NGO matrix and our "formal" democracy, it nonetheless advocates radical change through a third party, in this case endorsing Cynthia McKinny and Clemente.

While providing a valid and detailed critique of Barack Obamas positions on most everything, it runs into trouble in my opinion, when it tries to identify a possible "unified front" from which to challenge the status quo. Starting with a positive identification of who "we" are, it describes a Capital L Left which "hopes to transform (as opposed to adjust ) todays power relations." Where it begins to run into trouble is when it tries to describe where power is currently located. Focusing on a "corporate class",then "foreign policy elites",then "guardians of power" and a "ruling elite" which devises "corporatist policy and an "elite agenda", it studiously avoids Marxist delineations in favor of C Wright Mills New Left type rhetoric. Where is Labor? Same place as Capital, nowhere to be found.

I can deal with this because Morales at least is looking at an "underlying structure" and calling for a "massive shift of resources to the social wage and control of economic...decision making into the hands of the people." What initiates this process is a "unifying Social Charter" which in many respects sounds like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , using as a first principle this definition of fairness: "no one gets seconds until everyone has had firsts." (sounds like something Jesus would say) Much of Morales' urgency springs from his analysis of environmental woes, creating a convergence of opportunity ready to be exploited . Certainly the urgency is real.

The idea is that this charter could unify disparate entities of the "movement of movements" just as Tecumsahs call for indigenous land was to unify tribes with differing agendas, alliances, etc.. back in the day. (didn't work) The biggest unidentified obstacle I see is that there is a huge gulf between the anti-capitalist Left and the regulated markets left. Huge. Totally differing strategies to compliment their totally differing goals. The idea of a social wage has attraction but pre-supposes a system with vastly differing levels of empowerment which would undermine the democratic "control of economic decision making" and possibly end in bureaucratization or other forms of corruption. As for the call for a Peoples Party, again, if it is a labor party with syndicalist goals (general strike, for instance) I say yea but , the "unity" between social justice "people" has proven to be non-existent and I don't see another manifesto changing that reality. Check it out at www.ricardolevinsmorales.com/

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Where I Live

While Montana almost turned Blue last night, the valley I live in saw a huge resurgence by the Regressive Right. I wrote recently about the local power of the Church of Property Rights and sure enough they managed through a ballot initiative to nullify and overturn our counties Growth Plan, a sort of blue print for land use planning which has been worked on for the last twelve years. For the simple, rural folk who drove this effort, FREEDOM means that no collective body can interfere with your ability to do whatever you want on your own property, no planning board, no government, no public initiative. Two new Republican county commisioners were also elected who must now appease the radical fundamentalists, appease the developers and real estate industry and deal with lawsuit after lawsuit as "approved" subdivisions are litigated. The State will now have to step in to regulate, further inflaming the Libertarian passions of the locals. Total debacle as stupidity once again digs in it's heels. These are the same people who homeschool their children in the intricacies of creationism. Same as it ever was.

Another key resignation of one of Alvaro Uribes' generals, the commander of the army Gen. Mario Montoya in the growing firestorm over murders and unmarked graves. One of three generals and 27 officers implicated in kidnapping urban slum dwelling youth,murdering them and counting them as "insurgents", Montoya and the others should be under arrest and Uribe should be behind bars as well. Montoya and many other officers are American trained and the US has supported Uribe with military aid and "war on terror"rhetoric .(remember McCains bootlicking performance?) These murdered youth are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of brutal human rights abuses, as union leaders , social movement leaders and political opponnets of any kind have been targeted both by the military and it's para-military accomplices. This concerted effort is yet another crime which the Bush administration must be prosecuted for and as for Colombias impending trade agreement with the US and military aid, they are history. Our work has paid off.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Making the Case

The following is a letter to the editor I sent to our local paper. People have heard the word socialism and the phrase "spread the wealth" enough in the last couple of weeks to get them thinking. Anti-capitalists of all stripes should be using this window of opportunity to interject and counter the both the overt negative associations promoted by conservatives but also the more subtle disavowels of liberals. Out of the closet ,comrades!

Dear Editor,

In his eloquent public refutation of the charge that Barak Obama is a Muslim, Gen. Colin Powell stated that the “right answer” is : so what if he was? I believe we should apply this same thoughtfulness to the charge that Obama is “a socialist”. We know that he is not, but what would be so wrong about holding a divergent view concerning political economy?

Right-wing pundits and talk radio hosts are saying that such a belief is “anti-American” or aligns one with “Hitler and Mussolini” and sadly this type of ignorance is prevalent in the general populous.

Webster’s defines socialism as: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and the distribution of goods.”

Far from a totalitarian hell, this actually describes most modern societies to varying degrees, including the U.S. ( We just added banks and insurance companies to We The Peoples portfolio) Perhaps the abysmal failure of “market fundamentalism” will force us to consider alternatives, such as real democratic participation in the planning of a sustainable and just economic system. While it may be difficult for Joe the Plumber to understand this concept after so much indoctrination, increased economic equality (sharing) actually leads directly to more social mobility.

Many good citizens of the U.S. and the world, including Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, W.E.B.Dubois, Albert Einstien and the Dali Lama called themselves socialists. Vilification and demagoguery does nothing to further understanding.

Tight Lines, Troutsky

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Trouts Economic Plan

I was approached by a local Democrat organizer about the possibility of running for local office in 2010. when i explained by platform she backed off a bit.

First, I would tax the shit out of golfers, tax each swing, shoes, fancy clothes, etc... then a huge tax on all gambling which includes all financial speculation, stock transactions, etc. I'm being practical here and assuming a real socialist revolution isn't exactly immanent. I think the combined GM-Chrysler should be owned by the workers and no products allowed into the US that aren't Union Made. So far so good?

As far as Border Security, lets move the wall to Texas' northern border and not let any more of those freaks out. 60% still think Obama is a Muslim and Beak won't let me set up re-education camps.

Mean old Ted Stevens joins Bob Ney, "Duke" Cunningham, Tom Delay, Larry Craig and other illustrious Repub stars on the Perp Walk. I heard Margaret Thatcher doing a spiel for the Heritage Foundation, all "free enterprise" and"entrenprenuers", very Monte Python, but she too needs some prison life. I also heard Rush Limbaugh (same local radio station) explain how Free Markets allow those humans who are "a cut above"to rise and power the Great Engine. Like Beak, he falls asleep to Ayn Rand audio tapes. Spencer and his social Darwinism are in the dust pile but Followers are Followers To the End.

I see where Joe the Plumber/Philosopher and Lindsay Lohan are touring together, apparently doing debates after the style of Williams Jenning Bryant and Clarence Darrow. Sold out in Texas already. Lohan will be defending Mills' position that "Wherever there is an ascendant class, a large portion of the morality emanates from it's class interests and it's class feelings of superiority" while Joe takes George Baers stance that "The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the property interests of the country." Should be entertaining! Better be!